Welcome to our April Whisky Auction Highlights! We’ve got some wonderful whiskies coming under the hammer this month with classic old distillery bottlings from names such as Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie and Ledaig alongside a slew of superb old independent bottlings from lost distilleries including St. Magdalene, Glenugie, Dallas Dhu and Millburn, so let’s crack on.
We’ll start with this rather fabulous bottle from Glen Garioch – the wonderful Glen Garioch 1958 46-Year-Old, a single cask bottling from 2004. Just 336 bottles of this liquid treasure, the oldest single malt from Glen Garioch, were ever bottled and we haven’t seen one for quite some time. This was from the days when all of Glen Garioch’s spirit was quite heavily peated but the long passage of time has softened the phenols giving room for an absolutely glorious array of ripe exotic fruit. This is a nuanced, very complex dram with an amazing interplay of earthy smoke, fruit and structured oak – absolutely magnificent stuff.
Staying with official bottlings, 2004 also saw the release of the remarkable limited edition vintage Ledaig 1972-2004, a bottling of some of the first spirit distilled when Tobermory reopened in 1972 after being in mothballs since 1930. Bottled as a 31-year-old, the splendidly rich chestnut colour comes from a finishing period in fresh Oloroso sherry butts and this Ledaig was bottled at its natural strength of 48.5%. The combination of Ledaig’s massively characterful heavily-peated spirit with high quality sherry has always been a winner and this Ledaig 1972 is known as one of the greatest ever official releases of Tobermory’s peated spirit.
Next up is another legendary bottle, this time from Speyside: Glenlivet 1967 Cellar Collection. Bottled at a great drinking strength of 46%, when this inaugural Cellar Collection bottling was released in 2000 it was the oldest official Glenlivet since 1974’s 34-year-old Special Export Reserve and marked a natural progression from the previous Glenlivet Vintage series that had appeared a few years earlier. It’s remarkable to think that the Cellar Collection is still going strong over twenty years later, but the original Cellar Collection Glenlivet set the bar extremely high – like the Glen Garioch it offers an array of ripe tropical fruit offering and elegant oak structure – but without the Garioch’s phenols.
Let’s stay on Speyside for a contrasting classic from the same era. The turn of the millennium truly was a time of extraordinary treasures for malt whisky fans – also bottled in 2000 was this magnificent Glenfarclas 1954. A full-flavoured but delicately structured fruity, slightly peated Glenfarclas, this was a small batch of just over a thousand bottles from some exquisite sherry casks. The sherry doesn’t dominate, however, with plenty of room for subtle complex fruit and oak flavours, and at 43% this is a dangerously drinkable dram.
At the other end of the sherried spectrum is one of the most famous sherried Islays of this century – the stunning Laphroaig 1980 27-year-old. Bottled in 2007 from a small batch of five Oloroso sherry casks selected by Robert Hicks and John Campbell, just 972 bottles of this outrageously deep, dark, dirty Laphroaig were yielded from the casks. This is one of the most pungent, intense sherried whiskies we’ve ever tried but the Laphroaig spirit does poke through with heavy coal and a mix of earthy and ashy phenols among the profound dark fruit, burnt leather and hefty tannin of the sherry. The term ‘sherry monster’ was invented for whiskies like this.
Let’s switch focus now to some rather more esoteric drams – independent bottlings from lost distilleries. This is a category whose stock is by definition getting smaller as each year passes, sadly, so we were delighted to pick up some absolute treasures bottled in the golden era between the mid-1990s and the early years of the millennium.
We’ll start with St. Magdalene, also known as Linlithgow. With the forthcoming revival of Rosebank distillery, the poignant title of the greatest lost Lowland distillery will pass to St. Magdalene. The distillery closed earlier than Rosebank, in 1983, and its reputation has grown ever since, thanks first to independent bottlers and later to the stunning official Rare Malts bottlings released between 1995-98.
St. Magdalene malt whisky is generally richer and more complex than Rosebank’s, frequently showing a Highland-esque austerity and minerality that belie its Lowland location – the distillery’s spirit, particularly the pre-1975 vintages, is too characterful and complex to fit any generalised geographical pigeonhole.
We have some absolutely superb old indie bottlings of St. Magdalene and Linlithgow in this auction, including Gordon & MacPhail’s gentle St. Magdalene 1982-2001 from the Rare Old series and a pair of big, minerally cask strength fruitbombs from Signatory: Linlithgow 1975-2001 and sister cask Linlithgow 1975-2005. The pick of the St. Magdalene in this auction, though, is the ancient St. Magdalene 1964-1994 by Cadenhead’s, a fabulous refill cask displaying the spirit’s complexity with a beautiful assembly of citrus, smoke, orchard fruit and spices.
Classic old Signatory bottlings feature heavily in this month’s auction, which will be music to the ears of all our discerning malt connoisseurs. Miscellaneous Signatory highlights include a pair of the very collectable Silent Stills series, Glen Mhor 1965-2001 and Imperial 1976-2001, plus Miltonduff’s column still spirit Mosstowie 1979-2006 and the glorious Glenury Royal 1973-2004.
Glenugie is another lost distillery that is fast becoming a unicorn whisky as bottlings dry up – a quick glance at Whiskybase reveals just two new bottlings of Glenugie since 2011 so it may well be gone for good.
Glenugie was another distillery whose greatness only became apparent after its untimely demise. The distillery, located in Peterhead on Scotland’s east Highland coast, closed in 1983 without ever releasing an official bottling – the first official Glenugie was released by Pernod Ricard, who inherited the distillery when they took over Allied Lyons, almost 30 years later in 2011. By that time the true, exquisite nature of Glenugie had been discovered by dedicated independent bottlers and a small but growing number of whisky cognoscenti.
At its best Glenugie can be a true fruitbomb, or an old school coastal Highland dram with a depth and complexity that is almost impossible to find nowadays. We have three Glenugies in this auction, Murray McDavid’s Glenugie 1977 26-Year-Old, and Signatory’s dumpy Glenugie 1976-2003 and the later Glenugie 1977-2007.
Let’s do a quick run-down of some more fantastic rare indie bottlings from closed distilleries. Douglas Laing have some real treasures this month, including old Douglas Laing Platinum bottlings of Glen Albyn 1969-2002, Millburn 1970-2004 and Glenesk (Hillside) 1971-2003 among others, while Duncan Taylor bottlings include Glenlochy 1980-2005, Dallas Dhu 1981-2007 and the true unicorn Kinclaith 1969-2005, one of the rarest and least-bottled lost distilleries of all.
We’ll close with a pair of indie gems from distilleries that are thankfully still open today but were too good not to mention: the remarkably dark sherried Tomatin 1964-1987 for Reid Wines and The Whisky Connoisseur’s famous Balmenach bottled as Miltonhaugh 1966 28-Year-Old, an absolutely stunning whisky that blew us away when we tried it at Old & Rare a couple of years back and subsequently picked up an enormous score on Whiskyfun.
That’s it for this month – Good Luck and Happy Bidding!
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